This is a book that we should have had ten years ago, and which will still be read in fifty years’ time.
It is a history of the first war fought by Westerners in Afghanistan in modern times, and is clearly designed to cast a light on our present conflict there. But it is also a beautiful and moving account of a tragedy complete with imperial hubris, foolishness and great human suffering.
Its strength comes from two things, found at the front and the back of this thick but readable history. At the back is a huge bibliography, in which Dalrymple to his great credit has made an effort to include Afghan as well as British sources. Visiting Kabul, the author made great efforts to lay his hands on records of what Afghans made of the war. Several of these provide a colourful, even florid, counterpoint to the grim and introspective language of many of the British sources. (I liked, for instance, the phrase “the bird of sense had flown out of the Wazir’s brain,” used by one of these Afghan writers to describe a drunken government official.)
For more on this story, visit: A war for no wise purpose – by Gerard Russell | The AfPak Channel.